Friday, April 26, 2024

Prayer or Performance? Matthew 6:5-8

Prayer is a tricky subject. When people are called to pray in public, suddenly prayer takes on a whole new dimension.  If we are praying in private, and no one is listening but our heavenly Father, we feel safe.  God doesn't care if you are eloquent or halting in speech; He just wants to hear from you.

In the same way, when we are called to sing in public, suddenly music takes on a whole new dimension.  If we are singing in private, and no one is listening but our heavenly Father, we feel safe to belt it out, freely and unencumbered. It matters not at all if we hit the right notes.  If we singing from our heart, regardless of how it sounds, the Father is delighted.

God is not about performance.  When our acts of devotion become something other than a free expression of our love for Him, He is not delighted.  In the Kingdom of God, prayer is a lovely dialogue between Father and son, Father and daughter.  It is not for public consumption, even if it's done in public. Jesus is very clear about how it should be done and the motivation behind it:

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matt. 6:5-8)

OK, Rabbi Jesus.  I am beginning to think You are against us doing anything in public on behalf of our faith.  Well, I guess I am being hasty.  You just don't want us making a big deal when we give to the poor.  I supposed if I am handing some coins to a beggar and I make a big noise so everyone will look at me, they are also looking at the beggar, which surely would be embarrassing to him.  No one, who is down and out, wants people staring at them and us making a big deal will do just that.  I guess the Father sees everything, and we don't need approval of our piety from anyone but Him, so it makes sense that we don't do everything as if we are on stage. 

Yeah, those big and loud prayers gushing from someone is annoying.  Their flowery words, their "look at me, I am so pious!" is nauseating.  I get it why you call them "hypocrites"--that's the word the Greeks use for their actors. They're people who put on masks and pretend to be an old woman, or a servant or a rich man, and yet underneath they just regular folks, willing to say and do whatever it takes to have the audience like them. No depth, just a mask.  No substance, just lines uttered.  No sincerity: just memorized words and emotions to entertain. 

Yes, I see how that would be offensive to our Father. 

Jesus wanted those who enter the Kingdom of God to be sincere sons and daughters of God, not because of lineage and history, but because of love. Lineage and history are important for sure, but they are no replacement for words spoken from a heart that wants to love mercy and justice and walk humbly with God, as the prophet Micah entreated the people of Israel long ago to do.

More piety, more reward?  What a terrible formula to operate under as a son or daughter of God.  Jesus is adamant that any reward such people are seeking, for having made their relationship with God so public and formulaic, will be only what they receive from others. How shallow is that?  People only admire you for so long, then they will conspire to bring you down.  

Admired one day, despised the next.

Jesus offers the solution for public acclamation:  Go right to your closet, shut the door and pray to God.  Unhindered. Unrehearsed.  Unadmired.  That will bring a smile to God's face, as He watches you prayerfully talking to Him, and only Him.  The reward will come to you and the answer will be given to you, not because you are all that and a bag of chips, but because you prayed with love in your heart.

But be careful.  Even sincere people can fall into a trap of asking over and over, heaping words upon words and a sense that God isn't listening, because nothing is happening. Wrong.  Jesus is adamant that God hears you and already knows your need. He wants to commune with you and hear your heart. Going on and on, repetitiously, isn't the kind of prayer God delights in--you and I do not want to be talked to over and over, with the same idea with the same words being spoken.  God is no different.

But why does then God want us to pray if He already knows what we need.  I know my children need dinner, but when they ask me, "Hey, Mom!  When's dinner?" we make a connection.  We talk, we share and we may even veer off the subject of dinner and talk about other things.

Our Father is no different.  He wants to make a connection with us, share with us, and talk about many things. 

His lack of action is not a lack of love--many things must go into place for a prayer to be answered.

Let me finish with an analogy, which I think will get the point across.  

I have two English springer spaniels, and meal time is a big deal for them.  We will ask, "Do you want dinner?" and they get so excited, they can hardly contain themselves. I scoop a cup of dog food into their respective bowls, and they chow down without hesitation.

I answered their "prayer" (a sincere desire) about having dinner.  

But do they have any idea what it took to get that scoop of dog food? I had to go to the store and buy a bag, and load it into my car and bring it home.

I have spent many years working, so I could buy a car.  I had to spent many years working to buy a house.  I have to spend my money wisely so I have enough money to pay the house and car payments and then enough to afford the dog food.

It's not just any dog food.  It's a specific brand, recommended to me by their breeders.  I can't give them just any old amount; too much and they get porky, too little and they get too thin. 

I have gone to many stores searching out this brand and the right size of the kibble bits. I only buy a certain size bag, because the really big bags are too heavy for me to lift. 

But if you were to ask my dogs, they would say, "We are praying Mommy feeds us.  She only answers us twice a day, and only gives us a small (in our opinion) amount. Sometimes, she is gone and comes home late (in our opinion) and we eat later than usual.  We bark and bark to remind her, but she tells us to settle down. We try. We just wish Mommy would feed us way more often, and give us way more food.  We don't always understand her, but we know she loves us."

God must do many things to bring about an answer to prayer.  His seemingly tardiness is putting everything in place (most of which we do not see nor understand) and giving us His best--not just any old answer, but His brand, filled with good things and His love.

We can bark to remind Him again and again, but He'd rather have our love, even if we don't understand it all.

That's why it's called faith--we trust God knows what's best for us, even if we disagree with Him.  Just as my dogs cannot begin to understand the complexities surrounding that scoop of food, we as finite beings cannot understand the workings of our divine Father.  Jesus is showing us how the Kingdom operates: on God's love. 

It's a beautiful basis for this Kingdom, but it takes our faith to keep standing on His promises. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...